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[Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting

I agree with Lubomir here.
Both these concepts, but especially "culture," are subject to such widely different meanings in different contexts and theoretical frames, it is simply not viable to work without allowing one's own use of the term to index a range of different interrelated concepts.

For me, as a CHAT person, "culture" is essentially the constellation of material artefacts which people (transcending immediate relations), use to mediate their labour and interactions. Although words, including spoken words, are instances of such material artefacts, I note that in Cliff's definition the material artefacts are never named as part of culture, focussing instead on shared meanings. This is probably a more widespread norm for the meaning of "culture" and of course we all have to understand this as a meaning for the word. When the implications of sharing the same constellations of artefacts for mediating actions is unfolded, it does lead to shared activities and shared meanings, the activity which stitches the artefacts into a "constellation" in fact. But the importance of "culture" to me is that it is objectified in a constellatiton of perfectly material artefacts, not only texts and language, but land and buildings, means of production, money and means of exchange, etc., and human bodies themselves. The material foundation of collaboration is a very important aspect of activity. I guess I take "community" as indexing all the people sharing that culture through shared activities.


Lubomir Savov Popov wrote:
Dear Cliff,

Just to respond to your request: You have good grounds for the integration of culture and community. In sociology and anthropology, it is pretty common to treat a community as a culture. On the other hand, a culture can or might define a community, build cohesion, we-feeling, etc. Of course, the definition/conceptualization of community is very complex, but I am talking only in respect to the question you formulated. Culture can be conceptualized in the framework of the subject; in the framework of activity, and as on object of study by itself. Culture is also materialized in the object of activity, but this forms a different plane of study. Other options are possible too. I need to keep short here. Community can be conceptualized as an activity system, as a culture, as a social group, etc., depending on the scholarly objectives. When community is conceptualized as an activity system, culture can be treated as an inherent component of activity. However, this is not the only way to treat culture in this situation. I just mention this one. Culture is about shared meanings, but it is also more than shared meanings. Of course, you can keep that shared meaning definition if you interpret many other components as shared or shared meanings. You focus on the development of shared meanings in shared activities. However, the concept of community can be delineated with different foci depending on the scholarly objectives. We cannot describe or analyze all aspects of a phenomenon. We have to select several. I mean when we are interdisciplinary. Otherwise, we select only one aspect that is core for a particular discipline or a research goal. Community is a very complex category. It stands for many types of social groups and also for many other social and cultural phenomena. I will stop here.
Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Cliff O'Donnell
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 2:06 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Activity Setting

Thanks, Larry. You are highlighting a key point in our article. Quoting again,

"If we define community by shared activity and culture by shared meanings, the basis for a theoretical integration of the concepts of community and culture into cultural community psychology becomes apparent. The key concept needed for such integration is one that can show how shared meanings develop from shared activities. That key concept is intersubjectivity." (p. 23)

Following up on that point, we would greatly appreciate the thoughts of the XMCA group on the value of integrating the concepts of culture and community. Our article presents the implications of doing so for cultural community psychology. What implications does the XMCA group see for CHAT?


On Aug 13, 2013, at 7:36 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

The shift from the individual TO *intersubjective* within activity settings
seems central.
As we explore activity settings, *inter-subjectivity* is also a central term

On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 11:01 PM, Cliff O'Donnell <cliffo@hawaii.edu> wrote:

Thank you for your response, Lubomir. Roger Barker was an important
influence on my thinking earlier in my career. His work is highly respected in community psychology. Quoting from our article, here is the distinction
we see between behavior setting and activity setting:

"The subjective focus of activity settings distinguishes
them from the behavior settings developed by Barker
(1960 , 1968 ). In behavior settings, the focus is on objective
molar behavior specified by time and place. Behaviors are
defined by the roles or positions of people in the setting and
activity is used to coordinate their behaviors. Suggestions
have been made to alter behavior setting theory to include a
wider range of individual behaviors, cognitions, and
interventions in the setting (e.g., Luke et al. 1991 ; Schoggen
1989 ; Wicker 1987 ). In contrast, activity setting theory
unifies the objective and subjective by showing how
activity is influenced and intersubjectivity developed.
Rather than a collection of individual behaviors and cognitions,
intersubjectivity develops as a setting characteristic
that becomes the shared meanings of culture and provides
the basis for cultural community psychology." (p. 24)

For a more thorough presentation of our use of the concept of activity
setting, please see:

O'Donnell, C. R. & Tharp, R. G. (1990). Community intervention guided by
theoretical developments. In A. S. Bellack, M. Hersen, & A. E. Kazdin
(Eds.), International handbook of behavior modification and therapy, 2nd
Edition (pp. 251-266). New York: Plenum Press.


Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA Division 27)

University of Hawai'i
Department of Psychology
2530 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822

On Aug 12, 2013, at 7:12 AM, Lubomir Savov Popov wrote:

Hi Andy,
I am also interested to find the term "activity setting" in Vigotsky's writings or those of his followers, including everyone in the East European
activity theory tradition. I would appreciate articles or specific
references and page numbers. I need this to anchor some ideas and to pay
tribute to earlier theorists if they have worked on this.

I am also interested if there are people on this list who work on the development of the concept of activity setting or on activity theory in relation to the planning and design of built environment. They can contact me at the e-mail below my signature or via this list, whichever is more convenient. I was going to make such a request on this list some time ago,
but now is a good occasion for this.

To my knowledge, no one in the East European activity theory tradition has used the term "activity setting," at least till the late 1980s. If I
have missed something, it is good to catch up.

I personally work (on and off) on the concept of activity setting since the early 1980s. However, I develop it as a methodological category for the study of built environment. I have to acknowledge that I got the idea for activity setting from Roger Barker's "behavior setting." At that time, in East Europe, the concept of behavior was considered one-sided and with less
explanatory power than the concept of activity. There was no way to
introduce the behavior setting concept without setting the reaction of mainstream social scientists. Even if someone dared to suggest the behavior setting concept in an article, the reviewers will automatically recommend to rework it as "activity setting." In East European social science of that time, behavior referred mostly to the visible, mechanistic aspects of
activity or in the sense of "demeanor."

Bob Bechtel has done a good work in the early 1980 expanding on Barker's behavior setting, operationalizing his ideas for the field of Environment and Behavior (Architecture and Human Behavior; Man-Environment Systems). However, this work didn't continue. On the other hand, at that time, it was too early to talk about activity settings in the USA. It is early even now, in particular in the field of Environment and Behavior. Many people in that field resent the idea of ditching behavior for activity. They believe that the concept of behavior setting is good enough and there is no need to
introduce one more concept of similar kind.

In relation to the field of Environment and Behavior, I personally
believe that Barker has offered very useful ideas and they can become a stepping stone for developing the concept of activity setting. The activity setting concept will allow us to use the apparatus of activity theory which is more powerful than the concept of behavior. I also believe that the development of the activity setting theory for the fields of teaching or
management or social work and community building will be somewhat
different. Their focus will be different and this will lead to working on different details. As usual, it is not possible to study everything about one object of study. We have to make difficult choices regarding aspects
and depth: what to study first, what to defer, and what to skip.

Barker had a lot of conflicts with main stream psychologists (not
activity theorists). I have heard from Bob Bechtel (a student of Barker)
that psychologists were telling Barker: Roger, you think just like a
sociologist, which in psychological parlance meant Roger, you are a SOB.
This illustrates the disciplinary biases and divisions.

Best wishes,


Lubomir Popov, Ph.D.
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
American Culture Studies Affiliated Faculty
Bowling Green State University
309 Johnston Hall,
Bowling Green, Ohio 43403-0059

Clifford R. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
Past-President, Society for Community Research and Action (APA Division 27)

University of Hawai'i
Department of Psychology
2530 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822

*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts